There was a time when women were just the kitchen keepers and the house keepers in the Indian society. That was treated as the only field for their activity.
Rearing children, cooking meals for the large joint family, or at best in their spare time doing some tailoring or knitting, but all within the four walls of the house — this was considered to be their only way of life.
Even the well-to-do families had large houses and right from the grandfather and the grandmother down to the grandchildren — all lived under one roof and were fed at the common kitchen. Sometimes cousins also shared the same home. Those were the times till the first quarter of the twentieth century.
Gradually women began to get educated, even highly educated, and a stage came when some of them came out on the social and political field to rub shoulder with the men folk in these fields. In the freedom struggle of India, there are notable names of women who took an active part in the different movements and even reached the top. This was the opening up of the new horizon for womanhood in India.
As of today women are found to be working in all fields and they are distinguishing themselves in those fields. For the middle class families, choosing a career for women has also become necessary. If they are duly qualified, they do want to be using their talents to seek an employment and be a support earner to their husbands. There is the social scenario that has also necessitated it.
Men, in search for jobs or while in their jobs, shift to bigger towns where the housing accommodation for them remains limited. The whole family, parents, brothers, sisters, all cannot be accommodated under one roof, therefore the concept of the family centers round the husband, the wife and their one or two children. This is the compulsion of the situation.
With the price-index escalating every day it is also found necessary that the wife, if she has the requisite academic qualifications, which generally she is able to possess, should also be working and supplementing the family income. This while giving her a social status, also helps the family to have a better standard of living, which everyone does crave for and rightly too.
Women now are in every career and in every field. But this has its own problems too. They have to be mothers, and as mothers, they have to give birth to children and also to rear them up. This becomes for them a major problem. It is the desire of all parents that their children are well looked after; they are properly nursed and cared for and grow up healthy.
The major part of this responsibility falls upon the woman — the mother. Ayas and maids, how much one might pay them, cannot be trusted to look after the children so well and then the Pace of work will not grant the woman a long leave — leave would be granted only according to rules. This becomes a very major problem with women with a career.
And then the home has also to be looked after. The husband also works full time; he also needs his breakfast; should carry his lunch or have his lunch at home if he can afford to come back home for it and then, of course, the last meal — the dinner.
The lady of the house has to look after all this also; it is still, in the Indian Society, treated as the woman’s domain. In this way balancing between official duties and the home front presents the women-with-a-career, enormous problems. Whatever said or done, the Indian society still remains a man-dominated society and the wife may respectably be called the ‘better-half, but in practical terms, she does remain the ‘worse-half. It would really be a very good fortune if the husband and wife of such a micro-family can have a caring mother or a mother-in-law to be staying ‘amicably’ with them, adjusting somehow, in the limited accommodation, but ‘amicable’ is the much needed adjective to that living. That alone can, to some extent, minimize the problem of looking after the children as also sharing the household chores.
But if that living is not ‘amicable’ then the problem becomes doubly aggravated. The husband or the wife has to remain torn between the dual loyalties and this can lead to an ever tensioned atmosphere — most uncongenial for all. The sensitive minds of children also receive the shocks of such a tension and when they grow up, would try to avoid staying at home and seek relief among friends. This may lead them astray. So the problems persist and even get aggravated.
Then there are problems with the career-women at their work places too. There have been cases reported in the papers everyday, of harassment by colleagues or by superiors.
The gender factor is there and menfolk are men folk anyway. In such a situation even the husband can hardly be of any help. He works somewhere else while she works somewhere else. Who to take cudgels on her behalf?
If a colleague — well-meaning though he is — espouses her cause; stories may begin to be woven around. It is to combat such situations that the Supreme Court had to come to the rescue of the harassed woman worker and in the landmark judgement has ruled sexual harassment of women at a workplace as a cognizable offence. But again to bring the ruling of the highest court in play, the harassed woman shall have to take recourse to the court which, in itself, is no easy matter.
These are some of the basic and fundamental problems which the career-oriented woman in the present Indian society has to face.
But then, that does not take away the pleasure and the privilege of women to take up work of their choice. Parents are giving equal attention to the education of girls. Those days are gone where the daughters were discriminated against in everything vis-a-vis the sons, Daughters, sometimes, have been found to be more dashing and more achieving in their academic fields and have earned a respectable career on their own merit.
The Indian woman today stands second to none — she happens to be a woman which she cannot help, but that does not denigrate her in any way. What is needed is that the society should learn to respect women; those who try to harass them should be looked down upon by the society and more drastic and deterrent punishments should be given to the offenders.
Peculiar is human nature — even a very highly placed officer in an inebriated state misbehaved with an IAS lady officer and the lady launched a case and relentlessly pursued it and got justice ultimately. Such should be some example- setting cases which should be speedily decided by the courts. Much of this problem would stand mitigated by this deterrence.
At home, the husband should learn to share equal burden in running the household. The wife should be treated more like a colleague and a co-partner — the husband to be a co-sharer and not the demanding partner. The kitchen if run jointly would make the meals more pleasurable and more enjoyable.
The children can be cleaned and bathed by the husband while the wife is preparing the breakfast or the lunch. The men folk have to give up their domineering and demanding role — they should understand that their life style — adequate or lavish — whatever it is — is due to the wife’s financial contribution to it. It is not his single effort or his single achievement. This feeling, if it gains ground, would make living a life a more pleasurable experience and the children would also learn the same way of life to help them live a happy life when they get married. Not a difficult thing to happen but only if the men folk reorient their thinking on these lines.